Wednesday, January 31, 2007

PODcast Fever

I have recently been coverted to the power of podcasts and indeed spoken work radio. I have always been a music radio person, but Christine has been a Radio 4/6/7 listener for some time. Slowly by osmosis and the horrendous Scott Mills effect (that uncontrollable urge to smash any radio that Scott Mills is broadcasting from...) I have been listening more and more to R4. And what a load of reactionary rightwing trash it is too, but thats by-the-by.

However, this introduced me to the wonderous possibilities of Listen Again and thus to the presence of podcasting and finally, as with many things, to the concept of RPG podcasts. Initially I was aghast at the possibilities for these self published pieces of opinion. After all, I have read a number of fanfics that seem to have been written by pseudo-psychotic pre-pubescent loons who use them as a way to channel their burgeoning hormones towards the female characters in some way. The possibilities of one nerd, one mic and a whole of opinion makes Mr Mills looks pleasant.

However, I have been stunning proved wrong - especially as I have been following a very tight 'word of mouth' recommendation regime. So thats what I am going to do! Here are my four current podcasts of choice.

The Sons of Kryos (

Jeff and Judd (and a seemingly never ending cast of guest-stars) crank out a show of around 30-45 minutes every two weeks which is pure gaming gold. This is your hints and tips workshop to listen to and dip into and generally steal from. It's like a great independent RP magazine with three or four features like 'Good Sentences' (where they explore a sentence that might be said at the table) or GM Tools (where they talk about a material thing that can be used in a game). They have a fair smattering of 'industry' interviews as well, which are very interesting. It's just a very cool, laid back show and probably the most technically useful of the four.

Have Games Will Travel (

Paul Tevis' show started for me as a review show but thats moved on now to a more generic gaming show. I'm not sure the show has really found it's feet since that change, but there are still a load of actual play reports and comments on games and insights into gaming and the industry. Ploughing the archives for old reviews of games which might have only just made it into the UK (and only into Forbidden Planet if you badger like mad) is great stuff.

The Durham Three (

First off, these guys have the most American names EVER - 'Clint R Nixon','Remi Treuer' and 'Jason Morningstar' - Secondly, they also have a sidekick that seems to have jumped into the show for the long term, Andy Kitkowski, making it really the Durham Four. Aside from that, the shows are great because they are normal guys talking about normal gaming. The premise of their show is that they play three sessions of a game, talking about each session before and after it is played. Yes, the play session takes place in the interlude in the middle of the podcast. The shows are quite short but they are fun to listen to. Good stuff.

Fear The Boot (

The newest addition to my list, FTB is four guys in midwest America talking about gaming and developing their own game on air. The shows are split into sections like 'banter', 'advice' and 'Skies of Glass (their game) Q&A' but the divisions aren't particularly marked and there is a lot of banter! I particularly recommend #34 and the description of the 'Death of the Moth God's Over God' diversion as a 'laugh out loud' moment. What makes these podcasts great is that the banter and diversions make it have that slightly amateurish edge that reminds you these are real friends doing real gaming.

Apart from the remarkably high quality of the podcasts, there are two things that sets these people apart from the other stalwart of online broadcasting I once listened to - WoWRadio.

The first is that the broadcasters heads are not rammed firmly up their arses when it comes to the subject matter. These blokes don't go on twenty minute rants about how they have been screwed out of money and happiness. They don't think they are the be-all and end-all of opinion on a topic. They are open and honest and generally pleasant to listen to. Unlike many of the broadcasters on WoW Radio. Which leads nicely onto the second difference - they actually LIKE their hobby. They do. Really. They don't live in a denial-riddled scheme of self-loathing hatred.

And that makes them a good thing. So podcasts - yey!


Friday, January 26, 2007

Starting Young!

FINALLY Forbidden Planet managed to get a copy of A Faery's Tale in stock and my plan to expose my daughters to roleplaying can be hatched. OK, that sounds a lot more malign than it actually is. The two girls in question (Lara (9) and Emma (6 and so nearly 7)) aren't exactly having their arms twisted in the matter. The two of them have always been more than a little interested in what Daddy does on Sunday nights. Indeed, by osmosis almost, they are turning into little geek girls. They lap up cartoons like Teen Titans Go! and Justice League Unlimited, read comics and watch fantasy films. Emma managed to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy and only has 101 questions every hour...

So this is a chance to share a little bit of Daddy stuff with them - a sort of gamer 'going out to kick a ball around the park.'

They asked last night exactly what they would be doing and I explained that it would be like a play where they imagined what was happening and I helped them do things. We even did a little faux-RP where Emma pretended to be Funshine Bear (she's just been watching the Care Bears) who was King of the Care Bears. I told her that a wizard had said that boggins had invaded the magical forest...what was King Funshine going to do? She thought for a second and then with a big grin on her face said 'Get my care bear friends, raise an army (!) and chase them out!!' She was even more impressed that she might be able to roll dice as well!

Realistically, bearing in mind the attention span of the dynamic duo, I suspect it will be short and sweet. However, it might well hold a little charm for them. We can only wait and see!


Monday, January 22, 2007

The Burning Crusade: One Week Later

Well, nearly a week - lets not quibble.

I spent most of the weekend pounding into the content of The Burning Crusade and I have to say that in the most part I am mightily impressed. Theres obviously been some lessons learned regarding the way the game is played and the good and bad points of the previous content.

Presentation and graphics have really been improved. The game simply looks better and that feeds into the weird feeling of Outland. There are some simple tricks being used - like not making all of the terrain flat - that add to the weirdness factor. The re-skinned mobs look great, especially the voidwalkers and ogres. There's also quite a lot of good lore within the massive (and I mean MASSIVE) number of quests that can be had, which makes the progression that little bit more immersive. I'm still not quite sure why we are throwing our bodies against Hellfire Citadel, but it's fun anyway. As I travelled from Hellfire Peninsula to Zangermarsh, the scene changed again and we enter more story-quest based stuff. I am actually intrigued to find out why the lakes are being drained by the naga of all people and what it has to do with the Sprogshroomthingy people.

There are some subtle changes within the quests. There are still the standard four types of quest: kill X mobs, goto X NPC, collect X items and explore X areas. However, in Zangermarsh you have a guided 'Explore X areas' quest where you are turned into the druid stormcrow form. AWESOME stuff. There are some 'hidden' rep collection things going on as well, which make some of those random pieces of chaff that you gather more useful. Oh, and an escort quest that runs. Yeah, just read that one again! Brilliant.

There are some downsides. The decision not to put any class trainers in Outland was a clever one - if only to make a reason for the mains to travel back to Azeroth. However it is a pain in the arse, making a well-stocked bank alt almost essential to act as an agent for the main character. The auction house has gone mental, as predicted. However this is partially fuelled by the vendor inflation in Outland. When leather scraps can sell for over 1g a stack, the normal price is going to well exceed that expected of such menial crap.

The worst downside is camping. Oh boy, the boss mobs are camped to fuck. There are a load of boss kill quests in Zangermarsh and you have to queue to kill these guys. However, not everyone has the same morals regarding this. There are queue jumpers. There are AOE spammers - including the infurirating paladin consecrate tagging method. It's just maddening. The respawn times really need to change on these mobs.

So, how's Gorthaal doing? He dinged 63 last night with maxed out First Aid and Skinning. Leatherworking is at 326 and he has a whole new set of feral gear with an AP of just under 1300. He still has a shedload of quests to do in Zangermarsh and one of two bits and bobs to do in Hellfire Citadel. I think when he finished Zangermarsh, I'll bring Kylea in and run her through as well. Hell, I'm even tempted to give Gortessa a run out!

All in all, I approve wholeheartedly of The Burning Crusade. It's revitalised the game for me in the short term at least. Whether the new endgame has any longevity is another matter altogether.


Friday, January 19, 2007

God Bless Playtesters!

Dave once said to me that in any business creative thingy, maybe one great idea might come from ten given. I guess the brave part is being able to discard the other nine with some objective clarity. This is the state I am at with the progression of my roleplaying game, which is now called 'Omniverse' by the way.

My initial playtesters have looked it over and one of the central concepts seems to be flawed. They've explained their dislike for it and I have listened. Now, there are three things I can do.

1. Succumb to the whims of my playtesters on every aspect.
2. Hold the creators high ground and ignore them because they simply don't understand
3. Balance what they say with what I think and make a reasoned judgement.

'3' seems obvious, but you don't know how close I came to '2' - and then I remembered what Dave said. The willingness to morph and change a proposition around so that it becomes a more polished whole - even if that means changing some of the central propostions - is a good thing. The balancing question is always, even if the product is good now, how can it be made better?

So hurrah to playtesters and their ability to feedback constructive comments and make great suggestions. Any designer should be thankful for his testers!


Thursday, January 18, 2007


Welcome to a slightly updated version of 'The Bottom of the Glass'!

It appears that Blogspot has updated quite a few features (or I have just found them!) Anyway, the upshot is that I have made a few necessary changes.

1. So that you don't have to be a Blogspot member to comment on my ramblings, I've changed the setting to 'Anyone can comment!'. I now expect Spambots a plenty. Such is the way of the internet.

2. I've started to add labels to my posts, so that those with more discerning tastes (you know who you are...) can avoid the posts on topics that they find boring.

3. I will be experimenting with merging this blog with my new website in the future. I've just realised that I have never had a home on the net for *me* in all the time I have been providing homes for other people. Daft really. So I'll be whipping the Omnihedron domain into order presently.

On with the relabelling!


Bittersweet Expansion Thoughts

After a little technical difficulty (amazing what the slightest smudge on a CD can do to an install...) Gorthaal and the rest of my cabal of characters entered the age of The Burning Crusade. It's been a moment myself and millions of other World of Warcraft players have been waiting on for over a year. Was it worth it? Yes and sadly no.

My first half hour of play was spent re-speccing Gorth from full Resto to full Feral. I will fully admit that I seem to have made a terrible mistake over the last few weeks, putting the end-game adventures of the guild before the preperation for the expansion. Having +768 healing does -nothing- for you if you are questing. You cannot heal the mobs to death! That left me feeling rather gimped in my new feral form. Where I had managed to assert myself as consistently one of the top three raid healers in the Guild, now I'm back to 'token feral guy with good equipment'. Of course, this isn't wholly a bad thing - I can pitch-hit pretty well as a healer still, but it feels a little sad.

Anyway, that sadness was mitigated wholly when myself and Dave teamed up for levelling once again as a gallant duo of feral druids. Oh boy! Being able to happily deal with two or three mobs at the same time is a very nice feeling to have. Seeing us take down a level 60 elite, in cat form, in seconds, was even more satisfying. It's nice to have the power back.

The expansion areas themselves are pretty damned good. The graphics are sweet, the mobs look fantastic and there seems to have been a change in the way that the quests have been structured thats a little less linear and has a bit more storyline. One thing which struck me is that very early on you get the chance to do a 'bombing run' which is immense fun and shows off the flying graphics really well AND you can repeat the quest for fun. Thats a nice little sideshow. I slipped through Hellfire Penisula and Zangermarsh and wandered around Shattrath City for a while and did a load of quests. I ended the night about 75% of the way to 61st level, which I was very pleased with.

However, the competitive soul in me is CRYING about the people who are levelling faster. Goddamit, I used to be the levelling machine. I was the one that was first to do everything. Not you guys. Me! Oh what a seriously flawed little munchkin I am!! However, on the other hand, I really want to experience the quests and the content a little more. It's worth it - which I will come onto later - and it's what I have been waiting for. But still, every DING! I see in guildchat makes me tug inside. Faster Faster Levelling Master!

Similarly, I felt really left out last night knowing that guildmates and RL mates were plumbing the depths of new instanced content together. I guess after months of doing everything as one massive group and sharing the highs and lows together, I'd forgotten the nature of 5-mans.
Maybe it's just a case of so much to do and so little time before it becomes passe?

Anyway, whats good? Well the drops and rewards are pretty spankingly awesome! FINALLY Blizzard seem to have some understanding that quests should have decent rewards - and these are DECENT, obscenely so. There has been much documentation about it, but I will say it again. Greens that are better than Epics. Thats all that needs to be said. I got my fair share of decent drops last night too, which was kind of cool. Don't know quite what I will do with them though.
Of course, this nirvana is balanced by other factors. Everyone is there. I logged onto my bank alt in Orgrimmar and there was nobody there. OK, thats a slight understatement. There were about eight characters there - mostly bank alts. The place was dead. The Alliance could have come in and had a party in Thralls knickers and no-one would have cared. That seems a shame.
Similarly, I realised that the expansion has rendered a load of the old content dead-in-the-water. Loot powers the game and the quest rewards in Outland outstrip almost everything you can get in Stratholme, Scholomance, Dire Maul, BRD, LBRS and URBS. They are simply distractions now - stuff for people who like quests to do once or twice before they hit the real content in Outland. It's like if there were a dozen instances you could have chosen from at 50th level instead of Sunken Temple and Mauradon. Blizzard might as well close the Molten Core server down. Who will want to grind their rep in Zul Gurub for a chest piece that gets replaced by a quest reward in two days time at level 61?

Now, I can see the reasoning and the hard decision that has had to be made. I can understand that Ragnaros has been defeated, Nefarian thwarted, Ossirian spanked, Cthun blinded and Kelthuzad burned. The old threats are gone and new ones have come around. Thats great, but the instances are still there. Hakkar is still stood on the top of his bloody pyramid for anyone stupid enough to get him.

I feel sorry for those people buying the game for the first time. I doubt they will experience the highs and the lows of the level 60 endgame like we did. They will not leap around the room like a silly prick when they first see Onyxia killed. They will not have that moment of sheer achievement when we downed Ossirian. They will not see what we have seen and do what we have done.

And that seems quite sad.

So hurrah for the Burning Crusade. Its brilliant in it's own way. But sorrow for World of Warcraft because I think it might have lost a little bit of it's soul...


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Taking the Plunge...

Well, after a degree of sweating and much thought, the second draft of 'the roleplaying game' is nearing completion. That said, it needs a good rewrite and edit and then a few more worked examples and maybe a little bit of purloined spot art (to break the text of nothing else) but it is ready for the next step.

Giving it to 'The Guys'

Now, you might think the FIRST people I would go to in my quest to design a game would be my regular gamer buddies but no. I've trawled my casual gamer friends first. Why? Because my gaming group know me FAR too well and know the way I think FAR too well. They are also some of the cleverest, most complicated critics I know.

You'll understand that I wanted to have it pretty much done before I unleashed the Alpha at them!

Not only that, but I'm going to float 'Omniverse' (as it now will be known) and it's first setting book 'MI:666' to some of them as our alternate week game. It's quite exciting and more than a little dangerous really. Bruised egos ahoy!


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Walls Come Tumbling Down

Anyone who has had a passing interest in the state of Horde PvE on Silvermoon over the last few months will have witnessed some quite apocalyptic times. Virtually every major end-game guild has splintered, broken, sundered and split. Sometimes it has been quite amicable and sometimes it has been very very painful indeed. New guilds have come and gone, mixing and matching members of the other guilds. It has been a very turbulent time.

However, it has thrown up one marvelous achievement. A metaphoric shoot of hope growing through the ashes of the pre-Burning Crusade destruction.

The High End 'Elite' PUG!

See, the new smaller guilds so not quite have enough people to run a full MC run. Some don't have enough people to do Zul Gurub. However, they do have burgeoning friends lists and more than enough people scattered around guilds who can vouch for people to join their raids.

So what does this mean? It means that the horrid guild snobbishness that prevailed has been forced to disappear. I was lucky enough to be on a Molten Core run with players from half a dozen guilds - including some that had previously been plundering Naxx and AQ40. I was thrilled that there was no 'looking down the nose' and no patronisation. These players who have gone far beyond where I have simply seemed to assume that I - well, tbh, we - knew what we were doing and could get on with our job. And we did.

Now there are plans for PUB Blackwing Lair runs (!), regular MCs, a frantic schedule of ZGs and some AQ20s. I even saw a PUG AQ40 yesterday!!

So what makes this era of inter-guild cooperation so bizarre? Well, two things really. Prior to the Great Sundering, a lot of guilds (including my own) were very stand-offish about being included with other guilds. We were superior to many and inferior to most and we knew our place in the hierarchy. Now thats all gone to pot and the 'strata' of player that you place yourself next to in comparison is less guild based and more activity based. Hell, it's like which team you get picked for at school.

The second thing is the loot rules: ironic in that this was the silliness that caused the downfall of the Dungeoneers. The accepted rules are simply stated at the start of the raid (usually 1 epic per person unless all pass, and T2 priority to mains) and everyone unquestioningly agrees. No mess, no fuss, no points, no lists - just need and greed.

*shakes head*

Who would have thought eh?


When the Doctor meets the Captain meets the Assistant...

Torchwood season finale - 90 minutes of pretty decent sci-fi subtitled 'My Big Fat Gay Apocalypse'. I thoroughly enjoyed it, more for the tantalising nature of the writing rather than the drama of it all.

Torchwood has been in the most part a flawed success in my eyes. It has definitely delivered on it's basic premise - an adult orientated Earth bound Dr Who franchise - but it's lack of an apparent metaplot has hampered any real feeling of growth or pace. In some ways it has taken the Buffy 'monster of the week' model and used it well, just not well enough.

The finale finally did expand on some of the issues that have been touched upon - Captain Jack's purpose for living, the thing coming from the darkness and in a brief nod, the connection with Dr Who. In all of that, it delivered just enough to satisfy but not enough to quell interest.

The acting was also, in the most part, really quite good. The lass that plays Gwen was excellent and the baddie was a thoroughly bad man. In fact everyone had their moments. Good stuff.

However, the real revelations in the last two episodes were the final markings on the sexuality scorecard that has been Torchwood. Oh Russell, you have to be so blunt about this things!

Captain Jack - Gay and a gay thing from gay land.
Gwen - Loyal to her man, despite a little jiggery pokery with Owen
Tash - Straight via bi with aliens
Owen - Straight with delightful bi overtones
Juanto - Oh so gay, like we hadn't guessed.

If only the starship Enterprise had been so liberal with it's loving!

So, thumbs up to the Torchwood finale - although they missed a trick at the end. I was convinced that when Gwen was faffing over the dead Jack there would have been the trademark swirling and then a little voice popping out saying 'Oh, looks like you need .... a Doctor!' - to be continued in Dr Who. Hell, with the ending that was given it looks like we might see Captain Jack alongside the Doctor one more time.

Of course, Torchwood is no longer the only spin-off from Dr Who - now we have The Sarah Jane Adventures. The premise seems simple enough - SJ and her kid sidekicks (young geek girl and all-knowing vat grown psuedoalien boy, alongside sort of sentient computer and cameos from K9 (woot!)) deal with alien threats in a non-violent, no guns, definitely not Torchwood stylee.

The pilot for the new series had all the things you would expect - SJ as the weird woman down the street, a fizzy drink that takes over peoples minds and a marketing strategy that is an amalgam of Willy Wonka and the Childcatcher. Slithering aliens and Big Eye aliens and evil henchwomen abound and in the end an aversion of mobile phones saves the day. Sounds quite twee and indeed it was BUT it had my two girls on the edge of their seats in a way that traditional Who just doesn't achieve.

And thus the franchise is fulfilled. You start with Sarah Jane, progress to Dr Who and then graduate to the XXX-R18 of Torchwood.

To the creative within me, it screams for a TV special where the threat is so huge it needs all three to come together to see it off. Ah, the drama! Ah, the story! Ah, the likelihood of Owen jumping Sarah Jane for the little bit of Granny Sex!

Anyway, nice to see Dr Who blossomming so well


Monday, January 01, 2007

2006: A Year In Review

What did the Queen call it? Anus Horriblus? Yeah, that just about sums it up. 2006 is a year that, if I was bothered with that sort of thing, I couldn't be eager enough to see the back of. In just about every aspect of my life, it has, to be brutally honest, been shit.

Personally I've lost not one or two but THREE members of my family, including my mother, all in relatively quick succession. I'm not a very sentimental person but thats taken quite a toll on me. Work has been Hell - the students union has no money to invest and therefore cannot compete with the local bars and the University is effectively holding our jobs to ransom. This is the third year where we have had to undergo 'restruturing' - ie. voluntary and involuntary redundancy - as well as a pay freeze. Job security is paramount for me and it simply isn't there anymore. Health wise, things haven't been too great either, with my increasing workload causing me a degree of exhaustion and stress I have never had to face before.

This malaise has seen the deterioration of my hobby life to a far more manageable level. Some of the things that have happened have been really quite heartbreaking, others have been more of a relief.

I've relinquished my chair as the Iron DM and haven't refereed an RPG for many months. Thankfully Nigel has stepped in with a magnificent game of Pendragon which seems to have captivated most of us and seems set to run and run. Do I miss being in the DMs chair? No, not really. I enjoy playing and it is something that I have really missed.

I've also wrapped up my small website management empire - no more developmental ventures, no more involvement with Comic Images, no more little sidelines for friends. This manifested itself twofold - in the first instance by quest for perfection meant that I was spending a lot of time pottering around doing websites when I could have been doing other things. In the second instance I did not have the time, understanding or inclination to learn, to do the special coding things that could make my sites look even passingly professional - and in the gaming market that meant running a constant risk of being upstaged by the audience, bright young things that they are. So, it stopped.

The disassociation with Comic Images and Raw Deal was something that was coming for a while, but in the end the impact is only really starting to tell now. As the WWE buzz about Wrestlemania beings to build I've suddenly realised that I won't be going this year. In a pretty mundane life, having a trip to the US every year was a highlight. No more highlights. I haven't played Raw Deal for months now and I have really lost close contact with a huge number of my friends. I'm in the process of selling off my old RD stuff.

World of Warcraft has been a constant companion this year, but even that has not been smooth sailing, not by any way, shape or form. Whether it is the constant postponement of the Burning Crusade expansion or the time pressures of playing 'seriously' on my life, it has always been a niggle. And then there was the great sundering of the Dungeoneers and the feelings of betrayal and anger that went along with that. My new guild, If In Doubt AFK Out, is great but it will never been the great masterpiece that the Dungs could have been.

Creatively I have started writing again, but what started as a torrent of fanfic involvement has turned into a trickle as it always seems to be the last priority on the list. I have even tried to get involved in an online modern fantasy RPG but I am still to make my first contribution - time, as always being the factor that is key.

So generally, 2006 has been a year that has stripped everything back to the bare minimum. What does 2007 hold for me? What good things have come from 2006 that I can carry forward?

Well, the aforementioned The Burning Crusade expansion for WoW should give that hobby a new spark of life (or, in the glass half empty world, kill it dead). Already the Silvermoon server is undergoing a palpable change in attitude and action in preperation for the new aspects of the game. I'm sure the AFKrs will be front and centre when the Dark Portal opens on the 16th January!

Raw Deal Revolution is a new, stripped down version of Raw Deal that I have bought into a little bit. It seems like a canny little game and Chris Henderson, the manager in Middlesborough will be running Revo only tournaments so I will probably be attending. Hell, the next national PPV might well be called Homecoming because me and Steve Hassall are apparently coming out of retirement. It's not really about the game, it's about having a close circle of friends. I just hope I have the time to satisfy this particular aspect of my gaming life.

I sincerely hope that we carry on Pendragon to it's natural conclusion. The game so far has been a slow, atmospheric build-up with some very effective moments delivered with great subtlety. The one thing it does allow, in the most part, is one player to be missing - a change which has allowed us to game far more frequently.

Within the world of RPGs I want to experiment more with some of the smaller 'indie' systems to see other aspects of gaming. I also want to carry on the development of my own RPG. The first draft has been made but the initial playtesting has floundered rather disappointingly. You would have thought that with nine groups onboard someone would have at least made one comment? Ah well - I'll get it sorted eventually.

However, the real challenges for this year will be away from the computer or the gaming table. Dealing with my new, radically reduced family and the different interactions that this will bring. Managing my workload and eventually finding a new job because I cannot continue working where I am now. Dealing with my erratic energy levels and the health of the other members of my family. Being a good father and helping my two girls develop further.

All of this and remaining true to myself and not letting the mundane overwhelm the interesting and the inspirational.

Goodbye 2006, you were a steaming bag of shite. Hello 2007, you can't get mush worse!